Elected state officials are one step closer to a change in salary after the Governor, House Speaker, Senate President Pro Tem, and Chief Justice appointed seven commissioners to a salary study commission Wednesday. Arkansas voters approved the body in November as part of the lobbying and term limits amendment, Issue 3.
President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) says he is purposefully unaware how his appointees feel about existing salaries for legislators, constitutional officers, and judges.
“I’ve tried to stay away from trying to influence in any way what direction they take. Really, I have not had any type of in-depth conversation with either one of my appointees as far as what direction I’d like to see them take,” said Dismang.
Dismang also declined to discuss what he thinks salary levels should be, “I’m not going to touch that."
The newly confirmed President Pro Tempore had two appointees and says his selections were based on his confidence in their mathematical and accounting abilities. Dismang said his choice of Little Rock School District math coach Brenda James helps make the seven-member Independent Citizens Commission more representative of the state’s population.
“Part of the goal that was set out in the Constitutional Amendment is that there be diversity. I think she accomplishes that while also ensuring that we’ve got someone that is very capable to do the job. We’ve visited several times now by phone just about her qualifications, about her background and again I think she’s a really good fit for the position,” said Dismang.
James is one of two women on the commission. Four live in Little Rock and all seven gravitate around central Arkansas. There are two African-Americans and five white commissioners.
Governor Mike Beebe’s Appointees:
Barbara Graves, Little Rock, retired businesswoman.
Larry Ross, Sherwood, President of Ross Consulting, L.L.C.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang’s Appointees:
Stuart Hill, Searcy, Vice President and Treasurer of White County Medical Center.
Brenda James, Little Rock, Math Coach in the Little Rock School District.
House Speaker Davy Carter’s Appointees:
Mitch Berry, Little Rock, Attorney at Dyke & Winzerling, P.L.C.
Stephen Tipton, Cabot, Regional Vice President of Centennial Bank.
Chief Justice Jim Hannah’s Appointee:
Chuck Banks, Little Rock, Senior Partner at Banks Law Firm, P.L.L.C.
A salary of just over $15,300 makes Arkansas legislators some of the lowest paid in the nation, however they do receive other forms of compensation sometimes amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.
Term-limited Governor Mike Beebe also made two of the seven commission appointments. Speaking after an unrelated press conference for university research Beebe cautioned against setting salaries too high.
“Looking toward the future to make sure you’ve got good folks to run for all these things you ought to be competitive but salary ought not to be your number one reason for running for public office. If it is you’ve got the wrong folks running,” said Beebe.
Prior to the passing of Issue 3 in the midterm election salaries were set inthe constitution, but allowed for the legislature to make cost-of-living increases. The commission can also recommend reimbursements and mileage rates.
An initial review is to be completed by the commission February 3rd, 2015. The findings, likely to feature comparisons to salaries in other states, will be open for public comment.